As a member of the chordophone family, the ukulele can trace its roots back to Portugal in the second century B.C. This four-string guitar-like instrument makes sound through the strumming and plucking of its strings.
Today, the ukulele is not just popular in Hawaiian music, but can also be found increasingly in pop music too. While a ukulele is similar to the guitar, it certainly has its own unique features.
This post will show you all the parts of the ukulele and how to makes its unique musical sound.
A ukulele is similar in shape and design to an acoustic guitar. At the top is the headstock. This piece is solid and usually made of wood or plastic.
The headstock holds the tuning pegs, and therefore it needs to be reasonably strong to support the tension created by the strings.
The tuning pegs or tuners do what their name implies. They are the piece of the ukulele that helps you to tune the strings.
The strings of the uke are brought up to the headstock and threaded through the tuners. The tuners turn and tighten or loosen the strings.
Tuning a ukulele is a skill which requires a bit of practice. The good news is that you can buy a digital tuner at a reasonable price.
The nut is a small ridged piece on the ukulele, which comes between the headstock and the fretboard. It contains notches to help hold the strings an even distance apart.
Without the nut, the ukulele would be unplayable. Why? It holds the strings up off of the fretboard so they can be strummed or plucked.
From the nut, the strings go at an angle into the tuners.
The fretboard is the part of the ukulele that connects the headstock and the body. Imagine it like the arm of the ukulele.
Traditionally, this part is black or dark brown as it was once made from hardwoods like ebony.
This flat piece is glued onto the neck of the ukulele. Your fingers will press the strings down onto the fretboard to create the different notes so it needs to be smooth and even to ensure the notes are in tune.
The frets are tiny bars that are hammered into the fretboard. They are specifically spaced on the fretboard to create the right notes. They get closer together as they get closer to the bridge.
Some string instruments like a violin have no frets. Violinists have to press their finger in precisely the right position else the note will sound off. Ukuleles are much easier as you just have to place their fingers behind the fret.
Depending on where you place your fingers on the fretboard, the frets changes the length of the string. This changes the vibration of the string and therefore changes the pitch.
Depending on the design and size of the uke, it can have anywhere from 12 to 19 frets.
Fret Markers or Position Markers
The dots you see on the fretboard go by several different names. They can be called the fret markers, fret dots, or position markers.
The markers help a ukulele player know the position they are on while playing. When looking down at 19 frets, it can be challenging to know exactly what position you’re in. So the markers are useful to identify fret positions quickly.
Usually, fret markers are inlaid on the fretboard, or on the side of the fretboard. Dots on the side are useful because the player doesn’t need to lean over to see the right position.
The dots are typically paced at the 5th, 7th, 10th, and 12th frets. Knowing their placement helps players to understand where their hand needs to go to play the right notes and make the right sounds.
The neck of the ukulele is the part of the instrument that supports the fretboard. The neck is often one continuous piece with the headstock.
The neckpiece is curved, which allows a hand to comfortably wrap around it while supporting the ukulele.
Whatever the material of the neck, it needs to be quite sturdy. It supports the tension of the strings as they run from the headstock to the body.
The body is the main part of the ukulele. It is made up of top, bottom, and sides which are all glued together to create a solid shape.
The body parts are typically made of wood. This is the part of the ukulele that produces the sound when the strings vibrating strings.
The specific tone produced by the ukulele comes from the shape and materials of the body.
The sound hole is the place where the sound is projected from. The movement of the strings create the vibrations inside the body. They move around inside the body and come out of the soundhole as music.
Depending on where you strum the string, it will impact the depth and volume of the sound that comes from the soundhole.
If you play the strings right over the hole, it will be louder. If you play the string further up the fretboard away from the soundhole, the sound will be more mellow and quiet.
Often the soundhole is decorated on the ukulele with a rosette design.
The strings of the ukulele can be made of a variety of materials, often a plastic, nylon or a nylon and metal combination.
Over time, strings will get duller, making the tone flatter. That’s when you know its time to change strings.
You want to change to them before you experience a broken string. Once you replace a string, it will need to be played in for a while, and the ukulele will need to be regularly re-tuned until it can hold the note.
Generally speaking, the more you play your ukulele, the more often you will need to change out the strings on the instrument.
The cost of strings is quite varied. They can run anywhere from $5 to over $35. It makes sense to buy strings that have the quality that aligns with the quality of the ukulele instrument.
The bridge is glued onto the body of the ukulele and holds the strings in place.
Two main types of bridges can be found on a ukulele: the-tie bar bridge and the standard bridge. The difference is how the strings are attached:
- With a tie-bar bridge, the string is threaded through small holes and tied off.
- With the standard bridge, there are small notches. Basically, the string is knotted at the end, then the knotted string is put into the notch of the bridge.
The saddle works like the counterpart to the nut on the body of the ukulele. Like the nut, there are small notches that help to hold the strings in place.
Also, like the nut, the saddle helps to hold the strings up off of the fretboard so they are not touching it while playing.
Upper Bout, Lower Bout, Waist
The bouts are the curves in the body of the ukulele. The upper bout is often smaller and closest to the neck.
The lower bout tends to be wider and is at the bottom of the instrument.
The curve inward at the middle of the body is referred to as the waist of the instrument.
If you liken the ukulele to a body, the upper bout is the shoulders. Then there is a waist. Then hips are the lower bout.